Father’s Day 2019

IMG_1524Madison’s answers to Lynnette’s Father’s Day questionnaire have officially crossed over from endearing to a subtly scathing critique of my dadness as I draw nearer to mid-life. I am happy that I still have hair to gel, but man, Mad just goes after me with the “swim shorts when we’re not going swimming”. They’re hybrid shorts, Madison. Get it straight. I love, love, love how her answer to the job question gets more specific every year. But of course, the two answers that best illustrate my life are “always making sure Avery isn’t getting into anything” and “don’t engage with your brother”. The first is just the way Avery’s conditioned me to assume that if I cannot see or hear her, then she is in the process of destroying something or herself. That second is what I say to Madison whenever she decides (roughly 10-210 times a day) to enter a conversation with Cole that has no point at all but to frustrate and irritate the little guy. I absolutely dread the stuff she’s gonna come up with after a year or two at Damien.

IMG_1523My family bought me these fanny packs for my birthday. “I think you’ve outgrown the one you have now,” Lynnette said as I opened the first box. I don’t know if she meant in terms of what I need to put in it or the size of my stomach area. I mean, she’s right either way but you’re not supposed to say the quiet part out loud, you know?

When I opened the second box and found the blue fanny pack, I said “Why two?” “The gray one is for if you want to dress it up a little and the blue one is more casual,” Lynnette said, probably trying super hard not to smirk. She got through that line with a straight face and I give her credit for that. “You know,” she continued, “if you wanna match your bag to your outfit.

I hate that Lynnette knows me well enough to know that I consider these kinds of things. Though I am much older now, I still try to coordinate the colors of my clothing/shoes. My dad wore a fanny pack while we were growing up and I swore I would never wear one. It wasn’t so much that I thought they were uncool (it was maybe like 43% of it), but I just never thought there would come a time when I would need it. When I was going to the bars and clubs in my twenties, my wallet, phone, and cigarettes all fit in my jeans pockets. And because I wasn’t so plump then, the bulk didn’t really matter. In retrospect, I can trace the moment I needed a fanny pack to my unrelated decision to play Pokemon Go on two phones. That made it impossible for me to carry all my crap in my shorts pockets without looking like a kleptomaniac – at best. Look, I don’t think the packs are cool – but it’s so much easier to carry my stuff (which includes two different kinds of stomach pills!) and wearing a pack means I CAN WEAR SWIMMING SHORTS WHEN WE’RE NOT GOING SWIMMING, HATERS. On Thursday when I walked into Walmart to pick up some Krazy Glue and Listerine, I looked up and saw myself on the CC television screen as I tucked the keys into my bag. I swore under my breath. Damn if I wasn’t the spitting image of Alden Higa. Sigh. We all become our parents.

IMG_1510At the end of the day, my kids gave me the rarest of all gifts: pictures featuring all of them looking at the camera simultaneously. When Lynnette handed me back the camera I was stunned (but I shouldn’t be – they like looking at mom a lot better than looking at me and I cannot blame them). Every week, I try to get a family picture of all five of us gazing into the lens at the same time but it never happens. And then today this. Avery with the “I have any place better to be” face; Cole fidgeting with my bag strap; Madison with the fake smile; me failing to realize the twins’ legs aren’t adequately obscuring my gut. This is us, who we really are.

Summer is young but I know too well that she gets old far more quickly than going to playgrounds, pools, and Icee machines do.  Still, I’ve been blessed with so many great moments with these three already. I just gotta keep this energy up so we can make more summer memories. Thanks for a great Father’s Day, family. I love you.

The Summer So Far: Lots of Icee and Chlorine

IMG_2160Summer’s been pretty good so far. The sun’s been out so the Summer Squad has had many opportunities for our favorite adventures: playgrounds and pools.

Most of the playgrounds we haven’t visited are far away from our home, so that would require a weekend trip so as to avoid traffic on the way home. We’ve been sticking to the tried and true fenced-in playgrounds, then heading over to Target or 7-11 for Icees and Slurpies. Lynnette bought 2 Detective Pikachu cups and we get $.99 refills until the end of the year. Fine investments.

The newest thing, I guess, is that the twins are well-behaved enough for me to take them to the pool with Madison’s help. The pool (and really, any body of water in general) is Avery’s favorite thing in the entire world, so she is incredibly well-behaved if she knows we’re headed to the pool. She lets me put on her swim clothes without trouble; she even stands patiently as I apply sunscreen. When we get to the pool she puts her slippers up on the bench and sits patiently for me to sunscreen Mad and myself before we shower.

DCIM101GOPROG1217079.She was so jazzed the first time we went to the pool last week that she sang “Shwim, shwim, shwim,” the entire way to the rec center. The second time, she sat on the bench, kicked her legs back and forth and said “Wanna go shwim-shwim, guys?” over and over. She’s great. She started putting her head under the water on her own last week. She’s moved on to trying to float. The results have been mixed, but I’m so impressed that she’s trying things out on her own. One of the other things she’s trying out on her own is jumping from the edge of the pool – but not in my direction. She seems to think that it’s a game – and the objective is to jump anywhere I am not. She doesn’t even make eye contact, she climbs the rail, turns, then looks at where I am and flies anywhere else. Other than that, the only trouble she give me is when it’s time to leave. She melts down because I am taking her away from her favorite thing in the world. The process works like this:

  1. I tell Madison and Cole we are going to leave.
  2. Madison and Cole get their towels and all the slippers.
  3. I scoop up Avery and don’t say anything, I just start walking to the exit.
  4. Madison and Cole meet up with us in the parking lot.
  5. Madison gives Avery her milk and I change her.
  6. If Avery falls asleep on the short ride home, it immediately becomes a 5-star day.

DCIM102GOPROG1367543.On the same day that Avery started dipping her head underwater, Cole started falling forward into the shallows of the kiddie pool, using his hands to catch himself. He bravely put his face underwater. Then, he started “flying” around the pool by kicking off the bottom. “I gave you underwater knuckles,” he said. “Are you opening your eyes?” I said. “Yeah,” he said.

The last time Lynnette came with us, she coached Cole into swimming to her from the stairway. It’s about 5 feet and he kicks off, but I give the guy so much credit for attempting to swim when it’s not obvious he knows how but it is obvious that he can’t touch the bottom of the pool.

Side Story: On the day that we took these photos, I jokingly said “Uh-oh, I don’t know if they’re gonna let guys with red shirts into the pool today”. As I drove to the rec center. Only Cole was wearing red. There was a pause. “I’m sorry, guys.” Cole said from the back seat. Lynnette and I laughed. A few moments later, he continued: “I gotta go home and change!” I keep forgetting; one of the ways Cole is so very much like Madison at this age is he takes things extremely literally. “They’re not gonna let me in,” he said as we pulled into the lot. I felt kind of bad. “Well, we might as well ask,” I said. I scanned my MTA card and the person working the desk read off our names. Suffice it to say that I really wish I had my camera on Cole’s face when he heard his name. He’s such a sweet guy.

Congrats, Madison!

IMG_1253Madison graduated from Mililani Mauka Elementary on Friday. As yet, I am still empty when trying to come up with an answer to the eternal question of where the time went. Increasingly, there is more of it behind us, fading into the obscurity of my memory while less is preserved here in this blog space. Adulthood, parenthood, I think, is punctuated by milestones like this but mostly it is the grind of sameness that creates an illusion that nothing is changing. Then you wake up on a Friday and your oldest kid is wearing a bra and heels to her 5th grade graduation. “How do you feel?” Lynnette asked Madison as we walked through the courtyard. “What do you mean?” Madison replied. “This is the last time you’ll walk through here as a student,” Lynnette continued. There was a pause. “I hadn’t really thought about it,” Madison said. Same, Mad. Same.

IMG_1262IMG_1270“Think of some place you want to eat where we can’t go with the twins,” Lynnette told her earlier in the week. The fried mac and cheese balls made Macaroni Grill a no-doubter, I suppose. It’s nice to know that some things haven’t changed.

You might recall that Mad and Lynnette conspired to prank me on April Fool’s Day. They told me that Madison “started her menstruation” and let me believe it for a solid 15 minutes before letting me in on the joke. It was a wild 15 minutes inside my head. That bewilderment became begrudging respect and anger when I was told it wasn’t so. I vowed to get both of them back. Two weeks ago, I screamed Lynnette’s name in the living room like something horrible had happened. “ARE YOU CALLING ME?” Lynnette shouted from the bedroom. “YES!” I replied with the same urgency. Lynnette sprinted around the corner and into the living room. “What?” she said. I pointed to the TV “Edward’s going to reveal himself to the Volturi!” I said, pointing to the TV. One of the Twilight movies was on. She looked at me. She looked at the TV. she looked back at me. “F*******ck!” she shouted. It was my finest acting performance in a very long time.

On Friday, we gave Madison her graduation gift – it was an empty iPhone box. She was pretty salty about it but not for the reason I intended. She assumed there was nothing in the box before she even opened it because “that’s something dad would do” and damn, does she know me. So when she lifted the cover and there was no phone there, she wasn’t surprised. When I actually handed her the phone, however, she was stunned. She still couldn’t believe it. That it actually worked. That there was data on it. She tried to hide her glee behind semi-sarcastic comments, but Lynnette and I know her too well. “Well?” Lynnette said. “Finally,” Mad said through a half-smile.

Madison will attend Damien in the fall and she’s not excited about it. I don’t blame her. She didn’t really have a choice in the matter. But then again, neither did I. My parents selected Damien because it was the best education they could afford. I had my doubts (how the hell was I supposed to meet girls?!) but in retrospect, Damien was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I met my best friends there. I played baseball against some of the best local players in history. I somehow got into college through Damien. Really, that’s all I can hope for with Madison – that she makes the most of her time at Damien. That she builds lifelong friendships. That she takes advantage of the athletic and academic opportunities. That she joins some clubs and organizations. That over the next 7 years, she’ll grow into a well-rounded young woman like those who have passed through my classroom.

Mem and I are so proud of you. As well as you have done in the classroom, I am even more impressed by your work as a big sister, especially with Avery. I think Gravy will miss you very much at school next year. I look forward to cruising through the zipper lane with you next year, doing my work in my classroom in the early morning while you sleep in a desk. I know that purple and gold probably aren’t your favorite colors but give them a chance. Congratulations on completing elementary school! Mem and I are sooo not ready for your next adventure – and maybe you aren’t either – but that’s part of what makes life so exciting. Viriliter Age.


Avery Rio: Citizen of the Quarter

Avery Rio earned the Citizen of the Quarter Award (just like her big sister) and our entire family attended the school assembly to celebrate Avery and the other award winners.

IMG_2217 2Avery’s teacher arranged for Madison to escort Avery up to the stage to receive her award. It made for a wonderful moment and also a lot of practical sense. There’s no telling what kind of shape Avery’s certificate would have been in by the time she got it to us. Bite marks would not have been totally out of the question; we could have taken bets on the number of pieces it would have come home in. Lynnette, Cole, and I waited patiently for the girls to take the stage.

IMG_2234 2Avery, a true-life badass, decided to plop right down on the stage as soon as she received her award and special pencil. Madison played it pretty cool while her little sister used herself to perform a metaphorical mic drop. Avery’s swagger delighted some of the people in attendance. Awwws and muffled laughter cold be heard throughout the cafeteria and for some reason those sounds caused stress flashbacks to those times in college when I shot my shot and got Mutombo’d softly and…less than softly. ANYWAY, Madison and Avery got off the stage without incident and somehow if Cole can win Citizen of the Quarter some day, that would be incredible for our family.

IMG_2256 2Congratulations, Avery!

Mom and Dad are so proud of you. You’ve grown and learned so much since you started school way back in November! You use your words, you are much more patient and much less volatile. We cannot believe the way that you calmly take your shoes off outside of your classroom, place them on the shelf, then hurry off to class. We love it when you ask us with “please,” and follow up with “thaaaaank you!”. We will celebrate this weekend with chocolate milk, Lucky Charms, and the beach!

The End of Game of Thrones

“The worst moment in GoT history was the moment the showrunners announced-with Thrones at its peak after Season 6-they were going to wrap up the series with just 13 more episodes.

It was inexplicable then; it is inexplicable now. One of the great unforced errors in TV history.” -Rany Jazayerli


However you feel about the events that unfolded over the last 2 seasons of Game of Thrones, the writer’s single biggest miscalculation (if we’re being kind) was failing to recognize (or recognizing, then ignoring) the fact that 13 episodes wouldn’t be enough time to finish the thing right.

Before the season started, the two biggest conflicts that remained unresolved centered on the Night King and the throne, respectively. I tried my best to outline how the show might unfold and I landed on Battle of Winterfell first, then who ends up on the throne second, splitting the season into 2 arcs. When I spoke to my friend Brett about it, he disagreed, arguing correctly that the show had built the war with the White Walkers as the existential conflict of the show. He wasn’t wrong – but the lingering second conflict was the variable. In the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, the existential battle against Sauron’s forces at Minas Tirith is the biggest visual conflict, but the actual A-storyline was Frodo getting the ring to Mt. Doom. This was established in the first movie: everything else humans did was an attempt to buy time for Frodo to do his job. Significantly, though both plotlines took place in discrete settings, they tied to the same conflict. That’s why those films were able to settle things in a final battle and epilogue; the conflict ends once the ring hits the lava, everything after that is just meant to give the audience closure.

I reasoned that the Battle of Winterfell could not possibly extend beyond the 3rd episode because the show would need enough time for the human ramifications to play out; the show, after all, is called Game of Thrones. That was always the A-storyline. As a result, I assumed that the humans would win at Winterfell, obviously at great cost. The fulfillment, then would not come from whether or not the humans would win, but from the denouement of the 3-eyed Raven/Night King relationship. When those concepts were eschewed completely, it had the side effect of making the entire plotline feel empty. In my opinion, it was a critical misunderstanding of where tension comes from. Because the outcome of that clash was never really in doubt, satisfaction could be had at paying off storylines and witnessing key character deaths. Those things never happened.

After Winterfell, the writers left themselves a mere three episodes to resolve the conflict of the throne, then really wrote themselves into a corner by using the penultimate episode to feature Dany’s turn and the razing of King’s Landing. By the end of that episode, only one question really remained: Are they really going to end this thing with Dany on the throne? If your answer was “no”, then it spawned sub-questions.

I believed they would not, so then I asked the following questions:

A) If not Dany, how do they get her off the throne?
She alone wasn’t the problem, it was the dragon, the Unsullied, and the Dothraki. How do the “heroes” deal with them?

B) If not Dany, is it Jon?
Jon had the strongest claim to the throne, but my considerable gut told me that he wouldn’t end up there, either. If he had, it would have been fine, but it just didn’t seem like something the show would do. It seemed too obvious, if that makes sense.

C) If not Jon, then who?
The only “name” characters with a legitimate shot left were Tyrion, Sansa, and Bran. But then at this point, any of them make about as much sense as anyone else, but Tyrion would have been the longshot because he’s a Lannister and a dwarf. Both traits were hinderances for him throughout the show.

My co-workers and I spent the week speculating about the show. Then, late Thursday, my friends came across a purported spoiler for the last two episodes which was posted to a forum site the Sunday “The Bells” aired. Here it is:

IMG_0996I’ve posted this because I want to point out a few things. First, yes, the spoilers were almost 100% correct. More importantly, however, a list like this shouldn’t encapsulate two 80-minute episodes so well. To read them without context makes them seem like highlights or outline notes. And yet two columns of bullet points summarize the final two episodes because these are the points they had to hit and they literally didn’t have time for anything else.

When I read the spoilers, I wasn’t upset with the choices. Honestly, we had already kind of narrowed everything down to those eventualities, anyway. This was just a confirmation. Once you start exhausting plot possibilities, there’s only a few ways things can play out and be believed. What strains the suspension of disbelief is the how? of these points, and those could only have been answered with more time.

Going back to my question A: [Dany] alone wasn’t the problem, it was the dragon, the Unsullied, and the Dothraki. How do the “heroes” deal with them?

Jon killed Dany, as expected. Then they completely ignored any kind of assumed fallout:

Drogon doesn’t kill Jon for killing Dany but melts the throne? I’ve seen hilarious explanations online: Drogon understands metaphors far better than anyone gave him credit for, and Did Drogon smell the steel of the sword that killed Dany and assume the throne killed Dany?

Without a body, Jon would have had to confess to killing Dany. How does Greyworm not kill him on the spot? How is it that the Unsullied and Dothraki do not start immediately blowing up shop? If the Unsullied and Dothraki are leaderless and are simply going to sail away from Westeros anyway, why does it matter what they do or don’t do with Jon Snow? Or Tyrion? The negotiation at the end of the episode is based on a weird assumption that Dany’s forces would react with a measure of discipline. Sansa refers to some “Northern Forces” outside the dragon pit, but wouldn’t Dany’s forces want to fight? Isn’t that what they specifically do? I thought that Bran might finally warg into Drogon and decimate Dany’s forces. It would have been messy and quick – but at least it would have made more sense.

Despite being on the sidelines for the two most important battles in recent Westerosi history, all the lords of the realms show up and now have a say in the biggest decision of their lives. And they make it 10 minutes. I’ve spent more time thinking about what to order from Agu Ramen and it still didn’t work out.

I guess my point is this: in and of themselves, these details aren’t terrible. It’s the fact that they happened at breakneck speed without any kind of explanation or development. Had the final 2 seasons of the show been a full 10 episodes, you still get 3 episodes after the battle Beyond the Wall to show preparations at Winterfell (essentially Episodes 1 and 2 of season 8) and maybe even start the battle to use as the cliffhanger into Season 8. Then, even if the battle doesn’t conclude in until the end of Episode 2 of Season 8, you still have 8 episodes to do what the show tried to do in the final 3. Think of how much more detail could have gone into choices like Dany’s turn and murder, or the choice to install a new king. It could have been 8 episodes of what the show does best: palace intrigue.

The best metaphor I could come up with for what happened to the show after season 6 is this:

It’s Saturday night. You plan for beef stew for dinner on Sunday but you also know that you’re going to the beach earlier in the day. So you prep the carrots and potatoes ahead of time so that all you have to do is brown the beef and throw everything into the pot the following afternoon. But then you stay at the beach longer than expected and get home as the sun’s heading down. You have all the ingredients ready. Maybe you like your beef stew with more battles or more nudity or less Euron or whatever. To each his own. Anyway, the thing you don’t have now is enough time because in order for the stew to be good, you’ve got to let it slow cook. What the writers did was choose to let the stew cook for an hour and serve it knowing that the carrots and potatoes would still be hard, that the beef wouldn’t be tender. Yes, it’s beef stew. They still got all of the ingredients in there but as soon as you take a bite, you know exactly what happened – it didn’t cook long enough, it didn’t simmer. It’s still beef stew but you know it’s nowhere near as good as it could have been if they had taken more time with it.

That said, I am grateful for my friends having talked me into it. I got a solid three months of geeking out, theorizing, and anticipating. Aside from the Mets actually being a competent baseball organization, there’s nothing I love more. Yes, it ended badly, but so do all rollercoasters in that they have to end at all.

We’re here to say goodbye to Game of Thrones: writers, actors and actresses, crew who set aside their differences to create a wonderful show together so that others might enjoy it. Everyone in this world owes them a debt that can never be repaid. It is our duty and our honor to keep them alive in memory for those who come after us and those who come after them for as long as men draw breath. They were the fire that ignited the minds and hearts of men, and we shall never see their like again.


Cole and Avery: Quick Learners

We’re breaking from our regularly scheduled Game of Thrones complaint blog to bring you an update on Cole and Avery.

IMG_0861We enrolled Cole in the MTA’s Tiny Tots program in April and he loves it. Mama Lydia takes Cole to Rec 5 every Tuesday and Thursday where he gets to interact with other children. We felt like that interaction with his peers was the most important thing we could give him right now because who knows what the long-term effects of watching The Rachel Maddow Show with Mama and Papa and Law and Order with me are?

Cole says that he loves playing with all the toys, especially the traditional Little Tikes red car with the yellow roof that we’ve all rested our bellies on and rode down a driveway like we were flying. He also gravitates toward puzzles featuring numbers and letters because he holds deep pride in flexing his knowledge of both groups. Whenever we’re riding in the van and we play Avery’s CD full of kids’ songs, Cole requests the “ABC Song”. “We always listen to that song, Cole!” Madison says with fatigue. “C’mon, Mad,” I say. “It’s the only song he knows all the words to!” Cole excitedly tells us which letter he got to hold in the letter parade. This week it was the letter P, to which I replied, “Like Philip!” To which Cole replied, “No, I like mom.” Brutal.

Cole Boy loves: cucumber maki (from Sushi Bay), letter and numbers, mango, Mom – but not dad, Yo Gabba Gabba, reading, and playing silly games with Madison and me.

IMG_0862The DOE preschool is the best thing that’s ever happened for Avery. She’s learned and grown so much thanks to the personal attention shown to her by her teachers; she’s also benefitted tremendously from the subtle peer pressure of her classmates.

Lynnette told me that she dropped Avery off at school one morning and watch in awe as Avery took off her own shoes, picked them up, then placed them nicely on the shelf outside of the classroom. Avery never does this at home. No. With us, she prefers to take things out, then never put them away. Madison watched the Gravy Boat’s May Day practice and said she was so proud of Avery because she walked to and from the stage calmly and also nailed her performance of “Slippery Fish”. Lynnette is taking Cole to watch the girls perform today while I am at work. I am jealous.

Avery still throws tantrums from time-to-time, but far less frequently. It’s kind of funny – she usually gets bent out of shape over having to put things on – her pull-ups, a shirt, shorts, etc. So when Avery’s teacher sent us this picture of her willingly wearing a paper hat, Lynnette and I were taken aback. It really does look like Avery – just like Madison – saves her very best behavior for school. But at home, she’s really expanded her vocabulary. Just last night Lynnette told me that she overheard Avery scold Cole by saying “Don’t kick your sister”, which is hilarious because I assume she’s just doing a Lynnette impersonation. She asks for “Monkey Charms, please” which is her favorite cereal. Yesterday, Madison, Cole and I were messing around with a beach ball in the living room and the ball spilled some of Avery’s cereal. Avery looked at the bowl, then me, then ran to the couch where Lynnette was and buried her face into Lynnette’s chest. Then she watched as Madison picked up every piece of cereal from the floor. Avery looked really concerned. I thought she was going to cry. But then she turned the situation to her advantage by uttering “More Monkey Charms, please!” and because we all felt guilty, we gave her more. She’s a clever one.

Avery loves: bubble baths, cruising shirtless, pinching my nose super-hard, Muppet Babies, Abby Cadabby, and taking things from Cole then running away.

It’s going to be an interesting summer for the four of us. I asked Madison if she thought we could handle the twins at the beach and she said “no” flatly before the question could even breathe a little. Madison has Damien orientation later, and the twins are just old enough to be bored at home but still troublesome in public. I’m hoping for a lot of playground, some pool time, so much Pokemon Go, and maybe even meaningful games for the Mets. We’ll see you out and about in a few weeks!

Game of Thrones is Lost in its Endgame

The Avengers saga and Game of Thrones both presented culmination of years of storytelling last week as Avengers: Endgame finalized 10-plus years of MCU storytelling and “The Long Night” seemingly capped the HBO show’s existential conflict between the living and the dead. In both cases, it was pretty clear the the two sets of heroes would win, what was less obvious is how they would do it.


MV5BMTc5MDE2ODcwNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzI2NzQ2NzM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_Front to back, Avengers: Endgame is the best movie I’ve seen in some time in part because it paradoxically earns points and is judged less harshly for the degree of difficulty in terms of what it set to accomplish. The final Avengers movie was the beautifully crafted bow atop a huge gift of a decade’s worth of superhero movies that 15-year old Phil never really believed would come to pass. In the last few years, popular culture had become so saturated with superhero stuff – especially MCU movies – that I had essentially taken them for granted. I have not seen all of the Marvel movies in their entirety and I skipped Captain Marvel altogether, but I had watched enough to feel comfortable with my knowledge of the universe. I thought that as long as I remembered what happened in Avengers: Infinity War that I would be OK. I was right, but the collective knowledge of all of those movies made for a richer experience.

First, I want to mention one very specific choice that the writers of Infinity War made that essentially allows for that movie and Endgame to make sense. In the comics, Thanos is basically a homicidal/genocidal maniac who worships death (which sounds incredibly similar to the other antagonist I will discuss in 43 paragraphs from now). In the MCU, however, Thanos is given more depth as a character, a specific moral code. “Overpopulation is a significant problem” in and of itself is not a crazy position but you could talk me into “exterminating half of all living things in an instant” as a problematic solution. But it’s Thanos’ evenhanded method of randomness and his commitment to it that sets the foundation for both movies. He claims a dispassionate and unbiased approach which never really falters. He does not kill for sport and even in moments when he could have easily destroyed his adversaries – like the Collector scene or the battle on Titan – he resists. It is never personal. This characterization lends credibility to the climax on Titan; the heroes and the audience can comfortably take him at his word when he agrees to exchange Tony Stark’s life for the time stone. The irony, of course, is that Thanos, the villain, questions Dr. Strange about his sincerity in the proposition because as we all know, humans are not the best at keeping their word. In terms of pure plot, Thanos’ code allowed for some of the heroes to survive an extinction-level event.

Going forward, this characterization is necessary for the first 15 minutes of Endgame:

  1. Only a guy hellbent on maintaining his moral code would “use the stones to destroy the stones”. I imagine that had I acquired all 6 gems, I would have said something like “OK, I’ll use it to help the Mets win just 1 World Series” before quickly opting for a dynasty in Queens instead. He understood the temptation that omnipotence presented and consequently destroyed the temptation.
  2. That act allowed the Avengers to trace Thanos’ location.
  3. Thanos’ revelation to the Avengers in the rural yet elegantly decorated shack was buttressed by Nebula’s “my father is many things but a liar is not one of them” comment, but it didn’t really need to be. He is many things and a man of his word is one of them.

So when 2014 Thanos learns that he succeeded but the heroes he left standing are trying to undo his masterpiece 5 years from then, he immediately understands his mistake: letting those heroes live allowed for the possibility – even if remote – that his life’s work could be nullified. I feel like it’s a complex situation that got passed too quickly. In about 15 seconds, Thanos learned that the thing he’d spent his entire existence trying to achieve would actually come to pass – but that it could somehow be retroactively wiped away before he actually experienced it. I don’t know how I would have processed something like that. Anyway, this revelation presents him with a dilemma. He will likely have to break his moral code in order to secure the future he wants. Of course that’s the decision he makes and in a way, it’s one of the most relatable in the entire story: how far are you willing to go to get what you want? Well, if you’re the Avengers, the answer is: BACK IN TIME.

As a rule, I hate time travel stories because they never seem to work out. There are always laws of physics, science I don’t understand, and hey-wait-if-he-does-that-then-then-how-does-she-do-this-later questions that never sit well with me. But Endgame’s time travel gambit works specifically because of the previous decade of world building. In stand-alone movies, like the Butterfly Effect, for example, the time travel sequences always leave me cold because the both the writers and the travelers never seem to spend enough time in the past or explaining how any of it is supposed to work. I vividly remember Ashton Kutcher returning to kindergarten to stab himself with those receipt pokers in order to convince his cellmate of some kind of religious possession via stigmata. What the hell? How/why would he end up back in the cell? Sure.

So as it became clear that Endgame was going to revisit specific moments in the older movies, I was genuinely excited. Are they really going to relitigate the old movies? YES! And it worked because all that world building negated the problem mentioned in the paragraph above. We’d already been to Asgard, the military installation, and wherever Quill was making an ass of himself singing into space mongoose/mongeese/mongooses. We already understood the beats and significance of those moments so they didn’t feel rushed or forced. The time travel also allowed for the longest-standing character arcs to pay off. Thor was allowed to reconcile with his mom and get the pep talk he needed after coming off a series of demoralizing defeats. Captain America got his much deserved “life” in a time and place that suited him, even if we didn’t see it. Tony Stark’s constant struggle between self-interest and the greater good manifested itself more specifically in a family – and he still made the sacrifice play (that Captain America suggested he would/could not way back in the first Avengers movie). Avengers: Endgame was 3 hours of paying off all of the major plot lines and character arcs. It was a satisfying conclusion.

IMG_0682By contrast, “The Long Night”, episode 3 of Game of Thrones’ final season failed to quell the questions I had going in.

I’ll start with the easy stuff. Why the hell did they shoot the episode so dark? We’ve seen great daylight battle sequences – Hardhome, the Battle of the Bastards – and even an amazing night skirmish at the Wall. Those stand as evidence that the darkness and general low visibility were specific choices by the writers/director. The only thing I can think of is they wanted us to be confused (as the heroes would be) and by that line of thought, mission accomplished. But in what had been built as “the great war” I struggle to understand why confusion was the primary emotion to be elicited from the episode. As the battle started in earnest, I thought how are we gonna know if someone dies? I mean, we never even got the wide shot of the full dead army. Off the top of my head, it was the worst large battle episode in the series. Maybe they’re “saving it” for the “last battle” but man, what a disappointing choice. It’s not like people would have been upset about two epic battles, you know?

My main problem with the episode was the complete disregard of the groundwork laid by the first 7 seasons of the show, especially with regards to magic and the relationship between Bran and the Night King.

In the hours after the episode aired, I scrolled through Twitter, the Land of Hot Takes, to view opinions on this specific aspect of the episode and most posters appeared to fall into two camps: those who felt disappointed that the show never bothered to address the two storylines above vs. those who were fine with the way the conflict was presented and wrapped.

@KFCBarstool, sports commenter (and Mets fan) tweeted:

If you are ok w Night King being only what was described during the story of his creation, cool. But I wanted to know more. They teased the possibility of much more. And if it he wasn’t more than “bad guy who wants to kill humans,” wish the show didn’t waste that much time on him.

Many of the replies on the opposite side argued that part of KFC’s problem was that he felt “owed” more, and that entitlement wasn’t based on anything promised by the writers/show.

@Beardowling responded to KFC with a nuanced take:

Remember tyrions story about orsen and the beetles. Tyrion wanted so hard to understand the beetle massacre at the hand of orsen. And in the end Tyrion realized he just liked doing it. There was no purpose to the killing of beetles. Just like there’s no purpose to the NK.

KFC retweeted @Beardowling with the caption:

For the record, this guy is the only person on the internet that has actually made a compelling point about the show and the Night King’s story. Be more like him and less like the cry baby who thinks everyone needs to like everything all the time.

Obviously, my opinions are aligned with KFC and here’s why: there’s a contextual difference between the Night King and Tyrion’s story. In the case of the latter, it’s an anecdote told within the realm of the story where the inquisitive character has no empirical reason to believe there’s any kind of motivation for Orsen’s mistreatment of beetles. Without any kind of evidence, Tyrion is starting from a position of assuming a method to the madness. Eventually, he concludes Orsen smashes the bugs because he smashes them. There’s no other conclusion Tyrion could have come up with because he didn’t have any other information at all. Maybe that sounds like the Night King too – from the perspective of the characters – but that’s not true for audience of the show.

The White Walkers were introduced in the first scene of the show and entire story arcs were built around the Night King and the mystery of who he was/is and what he wanted. Old Nan told stories about the Night King. The maesters at the Citadel knew the legends and debated their legitimacy. Bran’s 3-eyed raven (we still don’t know what that means, really) story, for example, set him in a mystical, adversarial relationship with NK. The audience was given a spiral made of horse heads. As recently as season 8, NK pinned a kid to a wall against a spiral of limbs that Beric specifically described as “a message from the Night King” – without even speculating what that message was. In retrospect, that moment is a microcosm for the NK in total: there was always the supposition that his character, his role held something much deeper than previously revealed, but when his story arc crested, there was no real attempt made to flesh anything out. The guy is impervious to dragon fire! He smiled! That’s gotta mean something, right? But no? Because he’s just a mindless, brute force antagonist? Coincidentally, the Night King was more similar to the comic book version of Thanos than the MCU version of Thanos ever was.

The Night King/Bran relationship got two sentences during the war council: the 3-eyed raven is mankind’s memory (being physically grafted to a tree in an ice cave is a great place to store that, I guess) and the NK wants to erase mankind and its memory. This drives me crazy because not a single person in that room said something like “Hey, guy, I know you’re Jon’s brother but, um, how to put this delicat- WHAT THE **** IS A 3-EYED RAVEN?” because it’s the very first thing I would have asked. No one was curious about what Bran could/couldn’t do? The writers just left it at that. As “The Long Night” ended, I was filled with disappointment and wanting, just like I was as Lost decided that getting the core characters off the island would be a great way to create the conflict of getting them back on the island.

In a way, the Dharma Initiative was the spiritual forefather of the Night King. The early seasons of Lost built a mythology around the group based on symbols, allusions, and artifacts that appeared to play into the larger story. Like all of the Bran/Night King theories, the online speculation about the Dharma Initiative became one of the best, most intriguing parts of following along with the show. Then, in the middle seasons, Lost pulled a bait and switch, using Ben Linus as a pseudo-narrator to explain not what the Dharma Initiative was or what they did – but that he killed them, buried them in a mass grave, and (in the meta-storyline) that they weren’t materially significant to the show. All of that world-building and time spent on Pierre Chang’s Dharma Initiative orientation videos amounted to nothing of consequence. The writers of Game of Thrones pulled a similarly dirty trick. They built a lore around the White Walkers and Night King around symbols, allusions, and artifacts – then didn’t pay any of it off; they created an existential conflict with a mystery at its heart – then resolved the conflict by completely ignoring the mystery.

I’m not upset that Arya appeared out of nowhere to spoil the Night King’s 3-1 lead. Her character arc was fleshed out as well as anyone’s in the show: she survived Harrenhal with little training; roughed it through the country side with miserable company; survived her faceless men training; illustrated her skill against Brienne, and snuck up on Jon in the Godswood. It was all there. But all this serves as an illustration of the reason why NK/Bran story so frustrating: it was all there for that storyline, too. The writers simply punted and we didn’t even get a ridiculous attempt – like the ghost of Christian Shephard – to explain things to us after the fact.